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Ranthambhore Take 2, and a visit to the Pink City


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Long overdue, I will shortly commence the second part of my trip report from our most recent trip to India in February 2020--which we fortunately managed to complete just prior to COVID-19 changing the world. (I almost said "our last trip to India" but didn't like at all the way that sounded! We WILL travel again!)


The first installment of my report covered our birding expedition to Uttarakhand and a short jaunt into Corbett National Park (you can find it here: https://www.safaritalk.net/topic/20833-birding-the-himalayan-foothills-corbett-nainital-pangot-sattal/  )


Following our night in Delhi which ended that report, we traveled via train to Sawai Madhopur, the gateway to Ranthambhore National Park, where we spent four nights and had three full day and two regular safaris; and then a continuation to the "Pink City" of Jaipur, where we spent two nights soaking up some culture, taking lots of photos, and shopping way more than we expected to!


This post is actually just a teaser/placeholder; the photos are finally processed and I will start the report in earnest very soon--stay tuned! (I figure if I start it, I will be motivated to keep going :lol:



Edited by janzin
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All good things are wort waiting for.^_^

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Splendid teaser indeed!

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Can't wait to see your gorgeous photos! That's a stunning picture of that tiger! I would love to visit India sometime to sees and photograph tigers....

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Wow, that tiger teaser shot is amazing!  Looks like I finally have something to look forward to...:)

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For some reason having trouble figuring out where to start on this report. So I guess I'll start with the train ride. This was our first experience on an Indian train; I'd always been reluctant, having read about frequent derailments and accidents and the utter chaos involved in boarding, the claustrophobia of the compartment, etc.  We were really glad that @Abhishek Sharma , who works for Wild World India, was accompanying us; he actually was going to be spending the entire time in Ranthambhore accompanying another client and his wife. An interesting aside, this other client happened to be a photographer and birding friend of mine, Christopher C., who I'd put in touch with Wild World India when he'd asked me which agent I'd used for prior trips. It turned out that totally coincidentally and unplanned, we were in Ranthambhore on exactly the same dates and on the exact same schedule of full day/partial day safaris! This was a real treat as our two vehicles often connected and exchanged info and it was super fun running into Chris, his wife (who isn't a photographer at all--so didn't mind having to share her seat with Abhishek), and Abhishek during the day.


Anyway, back to the train ride. It was pretty much as expected, thank goodness we didn't know yet about COVID (it was just a vague presence at that point) because the compartment was none too clean, and the window so fogged you couldn't see out (which didn't help my claustrophobia.) But I had Abhishek to talk with, and talk we did, the entire way, as dear spouse slept the entire trip. Unfortunately, although the train only left a few minutes late, somewhere along the way it continued to lose time, so that we were quite late on arrival and it was a mad rush to get to our respective hotel(s) , quickly drop our bags, use the restroom and then it was time to head out for our first afternoon drive. (Somehow Abhishek managed to fit in lunch, but we didn't! The 2nd day in a row with no lunch (see my prior report for the reason why ;)) But we took granola bars and drinks and were excited to get on the safari road.


A very quick word about the hotel. Last trip we had stayed at the Ranthambhore Bagh, owned by the photographer/brother of Wild World India's owner, Vikram Singh. But that property had since closed (Aditya Singh has built a new small property, more on that at the end of the report.) Anyway originally WWI suggested staying at Dev Villas, which is where Chris, his wife, and Abhishek stayed; but at the time I didn't know that Chris would be there, so I'd asked for a bit more upscale property, mainly because I was hoping for better food :) We'd settled on a hotel called the Nahargarh Ranthambhore, built like a palace and very close to Dev Villas (and close to the main park entrance.) As it turned out, the food wasn't that great after all but the property was very nice.


here's some photos of the property...


Grand entrance






Our very comfortable room (had a huge bathroom too.)




Dining hall. We learned that this place attracted large tour groups, but it really didn't interfere with us at all. We were gone all day, of course :)




The courtyard, where they had coffee/tea set up morning and afternoon, and they showed films about tigers and Ranthambhore in the evening.




On to safari...I know you are eager!


Edited by janzin
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Before safari--a word about our guides. On our last trip I wasn't that thrilled with our guide and driver for various reasons I won't repeat here. This time I really bugged Vikram endlessly to make sure that we had a guide and driver that would be a better fit for us. And he came through in spades! The guide he obtained for us was Rajesh Gujjar (the same guide @Filip A had on one of his trips) and the driver Mohan Singh. These guys were fantastic, absolutely perfect for us. They certainly knew their tigers but believe it or not, and unusual for Ranthambhore (or most Indian parks) they knew their birds and were keen to spot them for us. Of course tigers were the priority but they were eager to find us birds. Also, unlike the guide and driver we had last time, they were very friendly and communicative and would always keep us informed of what they were thinking/planning, conferred with us on what we should do, etc. We were really happy with them in every way!


So, we are off! So exited to be back here.




Because this first afternoon was a "regular" safari, we didn't have a choice of zones (theoretically, but as I've noticed before, the top guides seem to usually have some pull.) Our zone was to be Zone 3 which was promising because Arrowhead and her two cubs had been the stars in 3 recently. Alas, Rajesh told us that she had just the other day made a kill and sightings of her and the cubs had been scarce,  since the kill was deep in the brush somewhere. Still, of course we had hope, and there are other tigers to be found...


But I'll spare you the guesswork, we saw no tiger on this first afternoon. But we still had a good drive (with a surprise coming up) and we got acquainted with Rajesh and Mohan, and saw lots of great birds.


My happy place, or at least one of them:




As always, the guides know just where the owls roost.








We spent awhile at what I call the "swamp" (Does it have a real name?) This spot is always good for birds and usually Sambar hanging out.




You know, I just noticed that there were Wild Boar in this photo. I don't think I even realized it at the time!


A couple of Sambar were having a tussle. The ladies looked on, but this one in front wouldn't get out of the way for a better photo (and you can't really reposition the vehicle here.)




I was delighted to find Greater Painted Snipe, which, while not a life bird, I've never seen so close or gotten a good photo of.






A few other random birds from this first afternoon.








The ubiquitous Rufous Treepie






There's a spot where you cross a bit of a stream and there are always some water-loving birds there.






Well, we had a nice, rather relaxing afternoon looking at birds but of course we were a bit disappointed not to see any big, orange stripey things.  We were just heading back to the gate when we spotted a bit of a commotion. Several gypsies watching something apparently on the wall...  Might it be...a tiger?  (Well I already told you, it wasn't.)


But, it was the next best thing to a striped cat--it was a spotted cat!  The light was low, the cat was backlit, and we didn't have a great position...but I'll take a leopard any day, in any way!





Not a bad way to end the day!  Tomorrow will be our first full-day safari, what might it bring???


Edited by janzin
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Well I know everyone is waiting for tigers :) Be patient, they are coming very soon. But first my usual pre-amble--I hope this stuff is useful for future travelers (although so much is in flux!):


A bit about the full-day safaris. On our first trip to Ranthambhore, the full-day safari was a no-brainer, the benefits were a) no zone restrictions for the entire day--you could go anywhere you wanted; and 2) midday, you had the park to yourselves with only a handful of other vehicles.  This was definitely worth the premium paid. When we booked this 2nd trip, these same rules were in effect; but somewhere between booking time and travel, the rules were changed, to our great dismay. New rules: During the regular morning and afternoon safari, you could still traverse zones and go where you wanted, but during the midday period you were REQUIRED to exit zones 1-5 (the prime tiger zones) and could only stay in zone 6-10 (not very prime at all, and distant from the others.)  Effectively, this meant that all the full-day safaris ended up in Zone 6 because 7-10 were quite far and to get to them would use up 45 minutes of your precious safari time, traveling outside the park.


Briefly, we agonized whether we should change our trip to another park (difficult as the permits were already in hand) but decided we'd have to make the best of it. Vikram told us that sightings in Zone 6 had been fairly good recently, with tigress Ladli and her three cubs. 


Would it pay off for us?  Wait and see.


Meantime...since Arrowhead and the cubs were not seen at all the previous afternoon, Rajesh suggested to  start off our first full day safari in Zone 4, the territory of Krishna and her now dispersed three sub-adult cubs. These cubs---two males named Pi and Jam, and the female Shakti--were the same cubs we had such a spectacular sighting of on our prior trip. To refresh your memory, and so you don't have to go digging up my prior report, here is a photo of the family group from 2018.




That's Pi in the center, of course mom Krishna on the left; I'm not sure which is which of the other two (Rajesh ID'd them for us but I stupidly didn't write it down.)


Needless to say we were really excited to see if we could find them more grown up.


And it wasn't too long before we found Pi!  As it turned out, Pi was to be the star of this day.


Our first sight of him was distant, in the grass, and behind a log.




Eventually he got up and started to come towards us.




the light was just getting golden and I was praying, come into the golden light, come on!!


And he obliged!






He continued to walk, right by our vehicle (which Mohan always knew where to place.) By the way, you can see from the above photos why he is named Pi; the marking above his left eye looks a bit like the Pi symbol.




He came out of the grasses onto some rocks. We followed.  I should add, we were lucky there were only a couple of other cars at this sighting, at least at first. Christopher and Abhishek were there too :)








He came so close I couldn't zoom out enough (I was using the 70-200 at this moment.)




We got separated from him a bit as he went into the forest but he emerged on the other side (where the guides accurately predicted)


Maybe this is enough photos for one post so I'll continue in the next...


Edited by janzin
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He emerged into a grassy area and proceeded to lie down and groom. Luckily we were unobstructed, although of course by this time the gypsies had arrived in droves.




handsome boy. See the Pi?




After a bit, he got up and started to wander again.




He wandered by this waterhole and we hoped he'd take a drink, but he just kept going.




He stopped to do some scent marking.






And continued on.










After this, he went where we couldn't follow. The Sambar in the area were on alert...sambar_JZ5_9421a.jpg.f074c14b554c0e146f46834b77b89554.jpg


But we didn't find him again. That morning, anyway ;)




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@janzin Beautiful pictures, looking out for more !


Fyi The Krishna family of 2018 from left to right : Krishna - Shakti - Pi - Jam


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33 minutes ago, Filip A said:

@janzin Beautiful pictures, looking out for more !


Fyi The Krishna family of 2018 from left to right : Krishna - Shakti - Pi - Jam



Thanks, and thanks for the IDs, good to know!

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Fantastic pictures as usual Janet!

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Thanks @Atdahl @TonyQ and @Filip A for your comments, and everyone else following along.


After the Pi sighting, the rest of the morning drive was fairly quiet.


A mongoose shot is all I have until our bathroom break.




We stopped at one of the forest rest houses for a bathroom break, and for the guides to confer. That's our guide Rajesh in the safari hat, Mohan behind him, and I think Christopher's guide having a discussion. Also, I think these bathrooms were new as I don't recall them from last time.




I saw a wee squirrel on the sign...






 A treepie paid a visit.




and a Jungle Babbler; they always seem to hang around the rest houses.




At this point, believe it or not, it was already time to head out of our zone so that we would be out of zones 1-6 by the required time, I think we had to be OUT by 10 a.m. which actually meant we needed to leave zone 4 pretty early, like 9:15 or so---as it was necessary to first get through zone 1 to reach zone 6, unless one went through the village streets. Apparently these timings are very strict and drivers/guides can get fined, or worse, if they aren't adhered too.


We proceeded at a safe but rapid pace through zone 1 and saw....nothing. The guys took us a bit into zone 2 as well, just for a few minutes, as I think they heard an alarm call...but we couldn't stay. Remember, we had to be out of Zone 1 by 10!  We always made it by the skin of our teeth.


Entering Zone 6 in the nick of time, we soon found a shady spot to eat our breakfast (yes, we hadn't yet stopped for breakfast!) Christopher, Abhishek and crew were right in front of us.


After breakfast we continued into the heart of zone 6. There not much to say about this drive through zone 6 because we saw...nothing. No tiger, not many birds of interest. At least on this day. The habitat of this zone is more barren, open and hot.  It did have some nice candelabra succulents.




I only have two other photos from this outing in zone 6.


There were some Nilgai near the rest house in this zone. You can see the light was already very harsh, but since this was my only Nilgai shot of the trip, I'll include it.




Lastly, just before leaving we spotted a backlit Shikra perched on a rock.




One other nice sighting, but with no photo---we spotted a Barn Owl through a "window" into an old gateway, but he retreated behind a wall before I could get off a photo.


We made it to the entrance/exit gate to the zone, where we were to meet the guy from the hotel delivering our lunch basket.


The best thing I can say about Zone 6 is it had this lovely entrance gate!  Seems a little optimistic with Caracal and Sloth Bear, but you never know....!




Now, we had a choice--we could drive back to the main gate via the village streets, or retrace our steps through zone 6 and zone 1.  Faster to go through the streets, and you could get back to the main gate to be first in line....but...maybe we'd see something if we returned through the park.  But, going back through the park had an additional disadvantage, we realized. Afternoon safari times were 2:30-6. In reverse...you couldn't ENTER Zone 1 until 2:30...so by the time you got to a preferred zone it would be 3 o'clock and all the other gypsies would be ahead of you. Another reason to return through the streets. Chris and Abhishek and crew opted to go through the streets, while we opted to go through the park, at least this once, to see what it would be like.


And we saw....nothing.


Learning our lesson, we decided we'd take the streets for the remaining full days.


Anyway, so far at least, this new system for full-day had been a bust. But of course we still had the afternoon to look forward to!








Edited by janzin
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Since we returned through the park, we weren't first or even close to first back at the gate for the afternoon safari.  Rajesh heard through the grapevine that Arrowhead and the cubs were still laying low, so we decided to return to zone 4 again to see if Pi was still around.


He was.




It was pretty much "Pi Day" as we spent the rest of the afternoon with him. He wasn't doing much, just wandering from place to place, but we followed!




Eye contact! Is he licking his lips, thinking, yum, people! (nah.)








With one last leap, he disappeared down the stream where we couldn't follow.






I can't say we were alone for most of the afternoon. The word was out.




I think Chris and Abhishek's vehicle saw this mess and turned around. But we had a pretty good spot so we stayed.  I know a lot of folks think this is a good reason not to visit the Indian tiger parks, and I can't really blame them, but its not always like this.  And, to me, it is what it is, and its worth it to see this magnificent cat (who honestly never seem very bothered by all the attention.)


But after this he was out of sight. While waiting in various spots during the afternoon, I did get a couple of nice birds.




A very common bird but probably the best photo I've taken of one.




Heading out by the lake, this Sambar was having his dinner.




All in all a very rewarding day--even with the disappointingly empty time spent in Zone 6 :)



Edited by janzin
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Glad you started this part of your report, some lovely pictures as always. It seems like the main advantage to the full day permits at this point would be the lack of restriction regarding zones. That's obviously a big positive, but at a steep price. 

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46 minutes ago, Zubbie15 said:

Glad you started this part of your report, some lovely pictures as always. It seems like the main advantage to the full day permits at this point would be the lack of restriction regarding zones. That's obviously a big positive, but at a steep price. 


Thanks @Zubbie15  Indeed, if they continue with this policy then you are absolutely correct, the only advantage is being able to be unrestricted in zones.  This was definitely a huge advantage as there were several times we were able to follow tigers across zones while watching others look on forlornly, stuck on the other side, as we locked the gate chain behind us. But whether that justifies the price would be a big decision for future trips, unless they change the policy again.

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This next section will be rather short I think.


To be honest, I have no idea what zone we entered the next morning. This is because I have almost no photos from that morning. Wherever we were, we didn't find anything of interest...not even any birds. I do recall that towards the very end of the morning we heard word of Arrowhead and the cubs--I don't remember what zone, but it wasn't where we were at the moment. We got to that area in time,  but we of course were late and not in a great position and while we did see the cubs in the far distance, and deep in the woods, I don't have a single photo (not even a deleted one!)


Here, indeed, is where the new system really failed us. Under the old system, we could have just waited off to the side as it was almost time for all the morning safari people to leave. We could have then re-found the cubs and had them to ourselves. This is exactly the sort of situation that made the full-day permits so valuable in the past. But alas, due to the new rules, we had to leave, in fact even sooner than the other vehicles because we had to get out of zone 1 and into zone 6 by our "deadline."


This was really frustrating :(


Meantime, once again in Zone 6 we saw almost nothing. I say "almost" because we did get very briefly lucky. It was almost time to leave but Rajesh and Mohan saw how frustrated we were and decided to make one last try through the wooded section of the zone. Lo and behold, they spotted this off the road, lying in the woods...




It was the famous tigress Noor! Well, famous to me as I had just purchased a book about her, which was written and photographed by Vikram Singh's brother Aditya Singh, along with British photographer Andy Rouse. A very beautiful book about this tigress, the "Queen of Ranthambhore." (Not available in the US Amazon store but in the UK store: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Noor-Queen-Ranthambhore-Andy-Rouse/dp/0956457533)


So I was thrilled but unfortunately she was pretty much just sleeping. And off the road so we couldn't get a better angle. Although she did finally lift her head and turn around.




But then went back to sleep.  We were also late at this time to get back to the gate so we couldn't stick around. Sigh.


The only other photo from zone 6 was this White-eyed Buzzard.




This day we had opted to ride back through the village road rather than back through the park. So we left by the gate and pretty much sped our way back; stopping briefly by the roadside near our hotel where they were waiting with our lunch baskets.  This day and the next we ate our lunch on the park entrance road so that we'd be right up front to enter the zone 3 gate (where all full-day vehicles had to enter) right at opening.


I'm going to go a bit out of order here and include some photos of the village drive which were taken on the following day, because I have so few to add for this post. (The following day we asked Mohan to go just a bit more slowly through the streets so we could grab some photos, which he kindly obliged.)


Some street scenes from Sawai Madophur.












We hoped the afternoon drive would be a little more productive than the morning...and indeed it was. To be continued :)



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Entering the gate for the afternoon safari, word was out that Arrowhead's cubs were down by the lake in zone 3. Needless to say that's where we went.


At first, no sighting but we waited by the shore and while waiting I busied myself taking photos of some Painted Storks.





The light wasn't great and I think I have better shots of Painted Storks on another day so I'll just put the one.


But after waiting by the lake awhile and no sign of the cubs, we moved along. It was about an hour later--according to my timestamps--when we relocated them. One was in the high grass, and the other was several hundred yards away under a tree. Far across the water but, we hoped they would move to each other.  I think both cubs are female, perhaps @Filip A or @Zubbie15 can confirm, as they saw these same cubs on their trips. Anyway, she was lying down at first but after a long wait she got up and finally started walking towards her sister.


A habitat shot.




These cubs were about a year and a half old, so not exactly small, but still dependent on mom.


As she continued to move, she came a bit more into the open. Still quite far though--I put the teleconverter on my 500mm lens to take these. And the light wasn't great this afternoon.






Since the light was so poor,  I tried a black and white. What do you think?




She lay down for a bit and that enabled me to get some better photos.






She got up and soon joined her sister(?) in the clearing, but not close enough together for a nice image :(




We kept hoping they'd play together, but they were in a lazy mood.


We also hoped that mom Arrowhead would show up. She was somewhere back in those grasses, Rajesh were sure.  And in fact, after a while of the cubs just sitting around, they got up and turned into that tall grass right behind them. That would be the last we'd see of them for the day.


For THAT day, anyway :)


As usual, we closed the day saying goodnight to our Sambar friend and his grassy dinner.




One more full day safari tomorrow...



Edited by janzin
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Both cubs are female. Although they have not been given an "official number / name" yet, most of the guides call them Riddhi and Siddhi.

The walking tiger (B/W) is Riddhi, Siddhi is the one who's laying down.



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Great report @janzin, beautiful pictures, lovely portrait shots of the tigers and I enjoy the street scene ones as well.

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Thanks @Filip A I knew I could count on you to know the names! I do believe Rajesh told us this but I didn't write it down.


So, how do you tell these two cubs apart??


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Our third, and last full-day safari began almost immediately with a re-sighting of Arrowhead's two cubs. My first image is at 7:10 a.m. so we found them very quickly.  But since it was so early, the light was not great. Of course I took photos anyway and I wouldn't put these on my web site but for the sake of the narrative I'll include some here :)





Yes there were two!




These two pretty much stick together at this point, and mom usually isn't too far away unless she's hunting.






Marking.... ;)




Whoa, too close even for my 70mm lens! Nice kitty!




They headed into the forest but the guys had a feeling where they might come out, so we swung around and took a different road.


It was about 45 minutes later that we found them again, right in the road.




The light was getting a lot better now so we hoped they'd turn around or at least do something other than just walk.


As we crested the hill, we came to the chain in the road that divides the zones. Well cats will be cats.... and they had found an awesome plaything!




look at that paw!


Omg, this was super fun! There was one gypsy in front of us so I was standing on the seat and leaning over to take these. 








Hey sis, let me play too!




We were lucky we were on the right side of the chain for the beautiful light. Other gypsys--from the other zone---were on the far side, but they would have had backlighting. Chris and Abhishek were right behind us and I think Chris got some super shots too, but I might have been in his way at times ;)


Well that was very unusual and crazy fun! The pair eventually walked back into the woods, but we weren't giving up yet, especially as it was just getting into some very nice light.


Where might they emerge? We turned around and it wasn't long before we found them again....



Edited by janzin
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What wonderful--and unique--tiger photos! Thanks for sharing. I love your work!!!!

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